By Adam Burns
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The chants echoed from inside the vast Kansas City Convention Center.
“TAV! TAV! TAV!” the Texas Advantage fanbase cried at 11:25 a.m. on Monday. That moment proved to be the midway point of Texas Advantage's triumph ... with some revenge along the way, too.
Texas Advantage registered a straight-set victory (25-23, 25-23) over Wave to claim the program’s third Triple Crown Sports 14 Elite NIT championship in the last four years.
To spice the title win, the Dallas-based team earned revenge over Wave, who handed Texas Advantage its lone loss of the tournament in three sets on Saturday.
“It’s really special because we’ve worked hard and we lost to Wave on Saturday, so it was really good to get that sweet revenge,” Texas Advantage outside hitter Lauren Ingram said. “The last set was really fun because it was tight and it was really intense with so many people and supporters.”
About that support. Both squads had large contingents surrounding Court 15, to go along with other teams that stuck around to catch the top two teams in the 14s Elite division.
“It was kind of revenge for us,” Texas Advantage coach Joe Jablonski said, “but most importantly we had to figure out how to sustain the energy after a three-day tournament. That’s hard to do sometimes.”
His players delivered, holding off Wave in two back-and-forth sets that gave the crowd everything it could handle.
“The energy was so intense and everyone was screaming and yelling,” Ingram said.
Texas Advantage set the tone early, jumping out to a 4-1 start. Wave, however, responded by knotting the score at 5-all. Texas Advantage regained the lead, one that it didn’t relinquish the rest of the way.
From that point, Texas Advantage led by as many as five points and allowed Wave to get within one point twice. Wave trailed 23-21 before Texas Advantage’s Kyndal Stowers slammed home two of her six kills, the final one sealing the first set.
In set No. 2, Wave used a 5-0 run to take a 12-7 lead, but Texas Advantage answered with a 6-0 stretch to regain the lead at 13-12, forcing a Wave timeout.
Eight ties ensued, with the last coming at 22-22, before Emily Simmons registered a kill and Miller McDonald recorded an ace to help Texas Advantage pull out the two-point victory.
“We came to play and beat them in three in pool,” Wave coach Juliana Evans said. “So it was awesome the way it came down to them in the (finals). The last match was a game of more details. We played the same level of volleyball, very technical and scrappy. But I think the nerves got the best in the end that decided the score. It was fun.”
As for Texas Advantage, Jablonski acknowledged that the more his team wins championships such as this one, the target will only get bigger.
“It puts us on the pedestal a little bit and puts an ‘X’ on our back,” Jablonski said. “They won the 13 open USA Volleyball last year, so we’ve had that before. Now (the NIT championship) says that we can compete with the best in the country before we get to Indianapolis in June.”